Of Masters & Slaves

The other day I met a friend of mine during my morning walk. We discussed a number mundane subjects and then he said something interesting about rituals and superstitions. He said: “I can understand why I need to follow rituals since I know their significance. However, when it comes to superstitions, I’m unable to reconcile. For instance, I’m so conditioned to observe ‘Rahu Kaalam’, ‘Yamagandam’ etc knowing fully it’s all ridiculous.  My wife says I’m wasting close to 3 hours in a day by observing these”.(Rahu kaalam & Yamagandam are considered as inauspicious times of the day) .

He also considers it inauspicious if a cat were to cross his path. I said: ‘Yes, it’s exactly like an alcoholic not able to kick the habit and claiming helplessness’. My friend didn’t find my analogy palatable. However, I continued with another equally unpalatable comparison. I said: ‘A colleague of mine in the office who is used to chewing tobacco also says he is helpless’. He was offended by this and countered: ‘How can you compare alcohol & tobacco with my superstitions’. I said: “What’s the big difference. Both are vices and they control you. An alcoholic is hurting his body while you are hurting your mind. Look at it objectively. Tobacco is the cruel master and the victim is a slave. Alcohol is another ruthless master and the alcoholic is a desperate slave. Likewise, in your case, the cat, the Rahu kalam & the Yamagandam are the masters and like a slave you comply obediently’. Trying to divert the issue, he commented that I was influenced by J Krishnamurthy! I took it as a compliment and thanked him. I hastened to add that I may be influenced by JK but I fight my own battles against my childhood indoctrination.

After a little reflection, my friend agreed with me and said: ‘Yes, I guess unless I treat it like a vice enslaving me I won’t be able to get rid of the same’.

The point is that when it comes to ‘our’ vices we would not like them to be characterized as such. Even if we concede them as vices, they will be considered minor. As JK is fond of saying, unless we view every conditioning as a house on fire, we will not act to put an end to it.

Touching on another personal issue, my friend said: I’m going to take retirement completely after a couple of years (He is already 67-year-old and is still professionally active). I said: ‘You better develop some other activity before retiring’. He said that’s the most difficult part. I told him: ‘You are an astrologer with a completely different approach to astrology. I always admired your approach on the practical application of astrology to life.Why don’t you write a book explaining your views’. He said: ‘I will become controversial, if I do that’. I said: What’s at stake at this age and stage of your life? This time he at once agreed with me : Yes – that will be my new mantra – what’s at stake’!  I said, for that matter, there’s nothing at stake at any stage of life.  But then because of societal pressures and expectations right from the childhood most of us go through our lives like robots mechanically. We study and take up jobs to satisfy our parents’ ambitions. We get married and have children just because everybody else is doing the same thing. We, finally, retire one day and in turn condition our children also to follow the same beaten track. Sad but true. Isn’t it?


PS: After writing this post, I gathered that Vedanta has a lot to say on mental conditioning which is extremely enlightening as well as practical. I will try to summarize this in my next post.

Beyond Words and Meanings

“Truth is a pathless land” –  this is a famous statement made by J Krishnamurthy (JK)way back in 1929 when he dissolved the Order of the Star of the Theosophical Society for which he was made the head. Since then volumes have been written by several to unfold what exactly he meant by this statement. I venture to put forth my views on this with the aim of getting some clarity for myself. Let us first look at the context in which JK said this. As I mentioned, he made this amazing statement while dissolving the ‘order of the star’ which he was heading. By way of explanation he narrated a story: The devil was walking along with his friend and they saw a guy in front stooping and picking up something. The friend asked the devil: ‘what is it that the guy is picking up’. The devil said: The guy is picking up a piece of Truth. The friend said: Isn’t it bad business for you? Aren’t you worried that someone has stumbled on Truth and we will have no job from tomorrow’? The devil smiled and replied: “Not at all, my friend. I will make sure the guy organizes Truth before spreading it”. The rest is history.We have formed a variety of organizations in the name of various religions and started spreading different versions of Truth. No wonder that Truth stands completely distorted today. JK, like many of us, was totally disgusted with the organized religious establishments and hence this powerful statement.

The question then is what is Truth and how does one know it.? Truth is something that comes into existence when we completely negate the man-made psychological order. The psychological order consists of mere words and meanings. Eswara or God’s order cannot be understood in terms of man-made order. For instance when we see a Rose flower, we don’t see it as it is. We see it through the lens of our past memories about flowers and that makes us compare and make a judgment on the flower in front of us. In other words, our memory pollutes the present experience of a flower at any given time. The challenge before us is whether we can enjoy a flower or for that matter any object without using words and meanings. This is what is meant by negating the mind with all its contents of envy, jealousy, anger, expectations, fear, anxiety, insecurity etc.

Our Upanishads write volumes about Truth and finally conclude that what has to be understood and experienced is beyond words. However, we cling to words and meanings and miss the substance. In other words, can we see or experience a thing as it is without  words and meanings? Our Shastras refer to this as a moment when the seer, seen and seeing merge into one – the seer. I could see a practical demonstration of this recently while taking my grand-daughter for a stroll. I saw her watching the naked, stark bare winter trees stripped of all leaves lining the avenue without blinking an eye lid. I tried to distract calling her name out but she wasn’t bothered. That was the moment of Truth for her. This happens automatically for infants since they have no memory to interfere with their act of seeing. If we can do that, it will be a great beginning to our journey to understand and experience Truth.

Reincarnate Now – Said J Krishnamurthy

Once when JK was asked whether he believed in reincarnation, he shot back: I  don’t know about that, but we all need to reincarnate HERE & NOW!

This is indeed a profound statement. What did he mean by that? I will answer this with a story from our mythology. This is the story of Bhola Shankar, which I read recently. Among the myriad Hindu Gods and Goddesses, I particularly like reading about Shiva. He is depicted as an uncouth nomad with  matted hair, serpent around his neck, ash smeared on his body, living among the dead in crematoria and having goblins as His followers. One may ask how could anyone depict a God like that. The answer lies in just one great quality which reveals His inner beauty. That is His naivety or innocence. His other popular name Bhola Sankar aptly captures this quality. Innocence is the essence of His personality.  He is not clever – in fact, very often appears to become a victim of other’s cleverness. Since He is not exposed to the influences of culture, He is an example of a completely unconditioned person. And this is what makes Him think creatively and out of the Box. Here is a  story of Bhola Sankar which gives us glimpses of His innocence and pure intelligence, unadulterated or unpolluted by worldly ideas or thoughts:

After Parvati got married to Shiva, she asked him to find a dwelling place for them to stay. Being a nomad, He was puzzled at the thought of a dwelling place and asked her innocently why did she need one. Parvati responded with a counter question: How will you protect me from the summer heat? Shiva replied: We could comfortably stay under a great Banyan tree. Disappointed at His answer, Parvati asked again: How will you protect me from the cold during the winter days? Shiva was quick to respond. He said: We will stay in the cemeteries where there is constant fire  to keep us warm. Exasperated, Parvati wanted to know how he would keep her away from the rains, thinking He would have no answer.  Shiva had a ready answer. He said : That is no problem. I will carry you above the clouds where we could enjoy roaming around the world!

That is the character of Shiva. Completely unaffected by the world around Him, He has no concept of owning a land or property. Such concepts are, after all,  products of culture and civilization.

The story doesn’t end there. Hearing about Parvati’s wish for a dwelling place, Shiva’s devotee Ravana built a grand palace for Him. Impressed at the beauty of the palace, Shiva wanted to gift Ravan something in return. When He offered Ravan a boon, the latter cleverly asked Him to gift the very palace he built for Him! Not just that, Ravan wanted  Shiva to gift away His consort Parvati. Shiva, not even conditioned to believe in marital rights, replied: If she is willing to go with you, so be it!

I like this story of  Bhola Shankar because this is indeed the story of all of us before we became worldy-wise. Isn’t it a fact that we were all Bhola Sankars when we were born until we became worldly-wise? Becoming worldly-wise is nothing but being conditioned by family, society, traditions and so on. And we lead our lives as per the formula and standards set by these institutions without ever using our basic intelligence & creativity! This is what JK meant when he said we have to reincarnate NOW. He meant that we have to go back to our roots and become Bhola Shankars!

A Zen Master, JK and Thyagaraja in an imaginary Conversation

Here is an imaginary conversation between Thyagaraja, JK and a Zen Master in presence of a common man in the aftermath of the gruesome killing of Osama Bin Laden:

The scene starts with the zen master pouring tea into a tea cup. He pours and pours till the cup overflows – in fact he doesn’t stop pouring even after the cup starts overflowing. The common man is not amused. He stops him with a protest. The Zen master stops and simply smiles.
Thyagaraja begins the proceedings with what he passionately believes to be the most appropriate musical composition condemning Osama, namely, “Chakkani Raja margamu lundaga sandula duranela….”. He eloborated saying that when a royal path is well laid out,why should one take the bylanes and crooked paths.

Now it’s JK’s turn. He interjects with his famous line, “Sir,Truth is a pathless land”. The common man looks confused as JK continues, “Each one of us has to explore and find Truth for himself. I am not your guru nor are you my disciple”.
Now the common man wants to know from JK the root cause for human misery. JK says in his inimitable style, “Thought divides. Ideas and ideologies fragment further. When I say I am a Muslim or Hindu or Christian, it divides. So do concepts like democracy, communism, Socialism, Capitalism etc”. He continues, “This leads to violence and crimes against humanity. The story has been the same since times immemorial. The only difference now is that with technological advancements, human beings have invented more efficient ways of killing each other”.
The common man now wants to know how one can end this human misery. JK explains, “Let us explore the problem together. Is it at all possible to empty ourselves of the entire content of our Consciousness which is filled with preconceived notions,anger, jealousy,hatred,envy etc? If one can empty our minds of all that something magical will happen. one will then observe without the prejudiced observer. One will see and hear without the biased seer the hearer.There will indeed be TOTAL ATTENTION and in that attention,an insight emerges resulting in clarity of action. And such an action will be complete and filled with love and compassion”.

The moment JK talked about emptying of the contents of consciousness,the Zen Master smiled again and broke his silence. He said, “That is what I meant by pouring tea till it overflowed. Most of our minds are completely filled and overflowing with garbage – how can such a mind receive anything of value?”

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 5:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Appreciating JK’S philosophy

The other day my sister called me up from Chennai to share her excitement about a music concert she attended a couple of days back. The conversation went something like this:
She told me excitedly-‘You know the concert was excellent’ . I said ‘oh-I see’; she continued, ‘The guy was highly innovative….’ And she went on and on waxing eloquent on the young artist’s creativity. During the next 5 minutes or so, she must have exhausted all the adjectives she knew of describing the joy of her experience. But I was not moved. She talked about the ‘raagaas’ rendered by the musician in exquisite beauty and showered praises on his daring and unpredictable ‘sangatis’,swara kalpana’ etc. She said the young lad is already on par with the best in the field! I kept saying ‘very good-very good’ all the while but failed to experience her enthusiasm or excitement, at least not to the same degree.

The point of narrating this dialogue is to drive home an important message of Jiddu Krishnamurthy who exposes the limitations of language in conveying the depth of one’s experience. Verbalization of beauty and immensity of an experience even by a great poet is bound to fall far short of the real experience itself. The only way to experience a great musical concert, for instance, is to directly experience it. There is no short cut.(It is beside the point that my sister succeeded in motivating me to attend the next music concert by the same young artist).

But one might ask – ‘How can anyone resist the temptation of using exclamatory expressions or better still poetic language (if one is capable)when one sees a beautiful flower like,say, a Rose?’ This is a typical reaction to J Krishnamurthy’s well known remarks on experiencing beauty without languaging the same.
I tell them JK is completely misunderstood. Let us try to understand JK’s thoughts in the right perspective. JK’s oft quoted comment is – ‘The word is not THE THING’. What does he mean by that? Words can never capture the true beauty and experience of , say, a Rose,for instance. Words or poetry or music have limitations, however sublime or profound the medium of an art might be. For, if one is unguarded, it can limit the beauty of a flower to a mere word. JK often stated that the immensity of beauty and Truth can only be experienced but can never be put in words or through poetry or music. The moment one uses a poetic language one can get into a trap in the sense that the poetry becomes more important than the real thing and one is likely to miss the Truth and beauty altogether. JK is not a critic of poetry or music or of any artistic form per se. He is only cautioning us against the pitfalls of such a medium for expression of beauty. He says, ‘The movement of creation does not demand any expression’. On the contrary every expression should come to an end for the mind to find the immensity of creation. JK further puts a rhetorical question – “Is beauty something put together by man Or is beauty something beyond thought….?”.

In fact musical saints like Thyagaraja or Ramadas express the same thoughts through their compositions. For instance in one of Thyagaraja’s kritis – ” Baagaayanayya nI maaya lento; brahmakaina koniyaada taramaa”. Here the saint is saying that His ‘maaya’ is beyond the comprehension of even BRAHMA. Likewise ,another musical saint Ramadas expresses similar ideas in his well known kriti – “Emayya Rama brahmEndraadulaku naina
nI Maaya teliya vashamaa shri Rama ” . He says that even Brahma or Indra are not capable of comprehending the Lord’s beauty and charms.
Even our Upanishads say the same thing in a slightly different manner. Consider the famous lines from Taitriya upanishad- “Yato vaacho nivartante apraapya manasa sah anandam brahmano vidwan….”. The ideas are pretty much similar. It says that when it comes to expressing Truth,words and mind fail. Know that Truth is nothing but Bliss.

Published in: on April 25, 2011 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Of Thyagaraja, J Krishnamurthy & Neuroscience

The best starting point to learn anything is to say- “I don’t know”. This makes way for tremendous humility, complete openness, a willingness to learn etc. On the other hand if one starts off saying “I know”,then it is a completely opposite mindset – the mind is closed and unwilling to learn.
Thyagaraja says it musically,while J Krishnamurthy talks about it quite eloquently. And neuroscience deals with it scientifically.
For instance in the thyagaraja kriti “teliyaledu Rama bhakti margamu—“,he takes to task those who assume they know in spite of their complete ignorance. He condemns those who indulge in rituals and assume that to be bhakti. If only they admit in the first place they don’t know and then begin to explore,there would be some chance of arriving at an answer.
Likewise,in another kriti “telisi rama chintanato—“,thyagaraja lays emphasis again on awareness and the need to pay attention while doing ‘rama nama japa’. Awareness about the divine qualities of God while doing ‘japa’ is more rewarding than merely repeating His name like a parrot.

Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s philosophy is all about awareness,attention and observation in order to get an insight on any matter. Of course, it is easier said than done because our mind keeps wandering and is invariably misled by our age old conditioning.

This brings us to the question of what is awareness and how is it to be cultivated. Obviously this has to do with the most complex thing called mind. What is mind? One definition,according to neuroscience, is that mind is nothing but a ‘brain in action’.
Therefore a detailed understanding of how the human brain is structured is vital to address some of the basic issues related to the functioning of our mind. Recently I happened to read an interesting book that attempts to come up with possible solutions to transform our minds. The title of the book is “Evolve your Brain”, authored by Joe Dispenza . The book gives a scientific account of how one can get access to one’s subconscious mind. The book also deals with certain interesting techniques to transform our subconscious reactions into free will based positive actions.

In the posts that follow, I will try to highlight some of the problems of dealing with our minds and possible solutions for the benefit of those who may not have the aptitude or time to read a bulky book. The book deals with these issues with facts derived from research in neuroscience.

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Being creative – A natural state of our mind

One of the occupational hazards I face in my profession has to do with my role as a scientist and technologist (My role in R&D is essentially to come up with new ideas for new products or projects for implementation from time to time). Very often when a new and simple idea is presented by R&D,one irritating question that pops up is : “If it were so simple and straight forward,why is it that nobody else is doing the same?” or some variation of that. Invariably my honest and stock answer to the question is “I do not know ” .
There are two difficulties in dealing with this question. One is that there is no way to know whether somebody else has also thought of the same idea unless one is totally preoccupied with what others are doing,in which case we can only come up with imitative “me too” products or ideas. Second problem has to do with the mindset of people who can not accept a simple idea. It has to be complex or made to appear complex or at least have a precedence. Yet,in a corporate setting,one can not totally ignore this question because at the end of the day one has to sell one’s ideas to the management.
Generally the rate of success of new ideas(from my personal experience) is one out of ten,which is not bad at all considering the heavy odds against which the new ideas have to be implemented. There are people questioning the practicality virtually at every stage as the idea (or product) travels from the lab to pilot plant to main plant to the market place. If it has to survive and succeed in spite of facing such a rough weather,the R&D man has to pursue the idea with perseverance and serendipity. It is no exaggeration to say that a new concept or idea is like an infant which needs to be encouraged and nurtured by the management at each stage till commercialization. Lack of such an encouragement on our part basically reveals the nature of our mindset – do we have the mindset of a leader or that of a follower. Obviously if it is the latter,we are always troubled by self – doubt at each step and never get out of our comfort zone. Therefore we would constantly look for leaders whom we can conveniently follow all the time. The question that needs to be answered is: what is the root cause of such a mindset? Perhaps,fear of failure (and consequences thereof) is one of the contributing factors for this culture and clearly only fearless minds are capable of being creative. This reminds me of a famous line from the film “Sholay” where the notorious Gabbar Singh says:”Jo dar gaya,samjho,vah mar gaya”.

While reflecting on this problem I recall what J Krishnamurthy ( JK) used to say about developing an unconditioned mind (which is obviously a prerequisite for creativity). When JK was confronted by a listener expressing his difficulty to keep his mind unconditioned, he countered saying – ‘On the contrary, is n’t it very difficult to condition the mind, when it is so simple to keep the mind in its original and natural state which is unconditioned? Don’t we have to take lots of efforts to pile up our mind with prejudices,preconceived notions,likes,dislikes etc?’.
It may sound like an oversimplification of the problem. But then this statement also suggests how we complicate matters unnecessarily. JK’s observation is an eye opener indeed for many of us struggling to get out of our psychological misery due to conditioning.

It may not be unreasonable to conclude from the discussion that innovative thinking and creativity are the natural states of our mind which is poisoned over a period of time by our conditioning.
After all,every idea,every problem or solution is unique and has a context of its own. Therefore,It is best to keep things simple instead of analysing as to why nobody else has done what we intend to do.
A mind with a preconceived notion is the cause of several missed opportunities in life. For instance look at the classic example of conditioning with many of us including myself – to be prejudiced to think that the study of religious scriptures and reflecting on philosophical questions of life are issues exclusively reserved for the old age. This notion has resulted in a tremendous loss of opportunity for self development early in life. One can give several examples -from the most trivial to the most profound – of how biased thinking can harm individuals and positively hamper flowering of one’s personality.